The Little Wonders (Episode 03-16, January 1964).
The Little Wonders is a fan-favorite episode for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that it contains the one and only on-screen kiss between Steed and Cathy. It’s also one of the most amusing episodes to come out of Season 3, hinting at the slightly crazier plots to come when Mrs. Peel enters the fray.
Steed starts off the weirdness by putting on a clerical collar enters the orders as a way of uncovering the machinations of a criminal syndicate known as Bibliotheque, whose members pose as clergymen. He takes the place of the Reverend Hardbottle (arrested at customs) at a “convocation” designed to establish who will be the successor to the dying Bishop of Winnipeg. Meanwhile, Cathy investigates the connection between Bibliotheque and a doll’s hospital in central London. These two threads will come together, of course, but not before Cathy has a chance to be threatened by men in sunglasses and Steed carves out a name for himself in the syndicate.
This was one episode I wished could have been a two-parter. The Little Wonders brings together some of the best character actors to feature on The Avengers through its long run. There’s Kenneth J. Warren, who will return several times over the course of the show, as “Fingers the Frog;” Lois Maxwell (that’s Miss Moneypenny) as a machine-gun toting nurse, and John Cowley as “Big Sid,” to name just a few who simply don’t get enough screen time. Steed gets into the spirit of playing a vicar/gangster, referring to himself as “Johnny the Horse” (the derivation is equestrian), and carving naked women in his spare time. Cathy has the more thankless job as she attempts to discover why Hardbottle had a priceless doll in his possession, resulting in her apartment being torn apart and an altercation with a doll-mender whose part could have been elaborated on. She also inadvertently becomes Steed’s girlfriend for a few seconds: just long enough for him to kiss her without getting slapped for his trouble.
The Little Wonders plays the clergy angle to the hilt, luckily without wearing it too thin. While there are some moments of filler – no one really cares about who’s going to take over Bibliotheque, but there’s a lot of time spent on the issue – the episode moves along at a dashing pace, with enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. The greatest flaw is in a sudden about-face in the third act, which feels a little confusing and perfunctory; there’s also the question of what “top-secret information” consists of, and why government officials have such difficulty keeping secrets. It’s all in good fun, though, and there’s enough going on in The Little Wonders to justify the praise it receives. If I was listing the top ten episodes of the Cathy Gale era, this one would be right up there.